Whether visiting a major city or bucolic countryside, traveling by bicycle is a convenient and romantic way to see more of a destination at your own pace. Although not as bike-friendly as European countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, the United States possesses a surprisingly extensive network of trails ripe for exploration. These 10 long-distance trails across the U.S. stand out for their natural beauty, access to historic sites, and options for beginners and seasoned cyclists alike.
This 314-mile trail gives riders an up-close look with Washington state’s diverse and remarkable landscapes. Beginning in Sedro-Woolley in the shadow of North Cascades National Park, the trail heads west to Anacortes to pick up a ferry to the San Juan Islands, known for its thriving orca population, lush scenery, and deserted roadways. After touring the archipelago, the route traces south along Whidbey island to pick up another ferry to the mainland at Port Townsend. From here, the trail heads west to circle the high peaks and dense forest comprising Olympic National Park. Riders will climb more than 15,000 feet over the duration of the trail, so training and conditioning is recommended beforehand. Alternatively, focusing on one portion of the route, such as the calmer San Juan Islands, is doable for more casual cyclists.
Utah Cliffs Loop
Southwestern Utah boasts extraordinary canyons and otherworldly rock formations. Beginning and ending in the town of St. George, cyclists can traverse sub-alpine forest and highlands for 288 miles round-trip to witness the region's dramatic landscapes up-close and personal. The main highlight for many is Zion National Park, known for its striking rocks, river canyon treks, and lush mesas. The trail takes in many lesser known sites with smaller crowds, such as Snow Canyon State Park, the Pine Valley Mountains, and Grafton (a ghost town used for western films). The total distance, high elevation, and less predictable weather conditions make this trail a fit for experienced cyclists only.
Lewis & Clark Trail
Although the famous explorers traveled by boat, this trail follows a similar route from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. Spanning 3,539 miles from Hartford, Illinois, to Seaside, Oregon, this trail is for the truly adventurous. Completing the entire route takes between two and three months for most riders. On its way through the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, the trail passes many natural wonders and historic sites, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana. Instead, cyclists can also choose a smaller portion, such as the Missouri River corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City, for a shorter multi-day trip. In its entirety, trail conditions fluctuate from dirt paths to paved trails, so a sturdy bike is recommended.
Great Allegheny Passage
Covering 150 miles of former railway between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Cumberland, Maryland, the Great Allegheny Passage is a popular route for its scenic journey along the Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers and through small towns and forest. Numerous access points mean the trail is feasible for both casual rides and multi-day excursions. If you intend on riding the full route, be sure to spend a night in Ohiopyle for its quaint downtown and proximity to two Frank Lloyd Wright marvels: Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. As riders approach the Maryland border, they will pass through the 3,294-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel and then cross the Mason-Dixon line.
Ohio to Erie Trail
Spanning 326 miles across the Buckeye state from Cincinnati to Cleveland, the Ohio to Erie Trail is well-suited for casual rides and multi-day journeys alike. Portions of the trail follow abandoned railways, keeping cyclists safe from vehicle traffic and offering more scenic surroundings. Along the way, the trail meanders through farmland, historic villages, downtown Columbus, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. History buffs will have a packed itinerary between the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and numerous heritages sites and museums in between.
Denali Park Road
Although it is the shortest trail on the list at 92 miles, it is by far the most remote. Denali National Park occupies 6 million acres of mountainous wilderness between Anchorage and Fairbanks and serves as habitat for caribou, grizzlies, and other wildlife. Denali’s single park road is paved for the first 15 miles before changing to gravel. Vehicles are restricted to 15 mph along the latter portion, making it safe for cyclists. Riding between Denali’s six campgrounds is a great way to see more of the park than a bus tour offers. The first campsite is just a quarter-mile past the park entrance, with the farthest two being Igloo Creek at mile 35 and Wonder Lake at Mile 85. Buses are fitted with bike racks, so cyclists can plan for a one-way trip in and leisurely ride out.
In its entirety, this 519.5-mile trail crosses Florida’s interior twice. Starting from St. Augustine’s Atlantic shores, the path runs southwest across gently rolling terrain to Fort Myers and the Gulf of Mexico, from where it cuts back east to Fort Lauderdale. The trail is a mix of roadside bike lanes and separated trail. While some urban sections, such as Orlando, can be a bit hectic, the Florida Connector trail grants access to Florida’s less developed interior of swamps, farmland, and orange groves, too. Remote stretches between Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale have limited amenities, especially amid the Everglades and around Lake Okeechobee. However, this is where riders have the best chance of spotting birds, reptiles, armadillos, and alligators. Cycling conditions are best between December and March when temperatures aren’t sweltering and hurricanes are less of a risk.
Erie Canalway Trail
This trail traces the Erie Canal for approximately 400 miles between Buffalo and Albany. The flat terrain and frequent entry points in cities, towns, and villages along the way make it ideal for all skill levels and day trips. From the trail, cyclists will pass many historic locks, bridges, and gates from the canal’s days as a commercial shipping route. There are also hundreds of access points and places to rent kayaks to break up the ride. A nonprofit organization, Parks & Trails New York, organizes an annual bike tour that attracts hundreds of riders to complete the trail in one week. The ride is divided in 40 and 60 mile increments, making it doable for less experienced riders, too.
Texas Hill Country Loop
This circular trail runs 311 miles from downtown Austin and back. The Texan capital and its bohemian neighborhoods are quite bike-friendly, and the Texas Hill Country Loop lets visitors get out and experience the state’s rural charm and natural beauty. The spring sees a burst of wildflowers and bluebonnets across the rolling hills. Although summer can be steamy, there are frequent places to stop for a dip, namely McKinney Falls State Park, Guadalupe River, and Blanco State Park. Other highlights include the Lyndon B. Johnson Historic Site and Gruene Hall, Texas’s longest-operating dance hall. The loop features sections with separated trails in the urban and suburban areas, while the rural stretches follow quieter county roads.
Rather than a single route, Kingdom Trails is an extensive network of recreation trails that collectively span more than 100 miles in northern Vermont. The rugged interior is excellent for mountain-biking, but there are family-friendly and beginner trails too. Both the Darling Hill and Moose Haven Forest trails feature more gradual terrain. A lift at Burke Mountain makes it easy for riders to speed downhill without a strenuous two-wheel ascent. Riders must purchase a membership to access the private trail system, which goes towards maintenance and conservation efforts. For optimum conditions, plan your visit between early summer and fall.